The Rating Corner | Feb 01, 2019
Rating Corner | Steps for Promoting Safety

Ron Bell

In the real world of skydiving, people who are coaches, instructors and role models have their own personal experiences, training backgrounds and motivations. Achieving common safety objectives and targets instead of operating as a group of individuals without a common purpose requires an interactive process. Using a Plan–Do–Check–Act process can provide the structure and commonality needed to get everyone on the same page and working together. Like a circle that has no end, the PDCA cycle requires repetition for continuous improvement. When using PDCA for safety initiatives, you, the instructional rating holder, have a crucial part to play.

Let’s look at a real-world situation that illustrates how USPA is using the PDCA process to improve the safety of tandem jumps.

Case Study

Goal: Reducing the severity and frequency of tandem-landing injuries

Step 1-Plan

Several years ago, USPA and tandem-industry experts discovered that three to four tandem-landing incidents per year resulted in injuries that had a 4 to 6 ranking on the Injury Severity Score, a standardized medical scale that categorizes injuries numerically from 1 (minor) to 6 (unsurvivable). A detailed risk analysis found a direct correlation between the severity of the injury and the speed a tandem pair accumulated before landing. After speaking with experts in the field and looking at what worked elsewhere in the skydiving industry, USPA developed a strategy.

Step 2-Do

In March 2015, the USPA Board of Directors unanimously passed a motion that read, “Move to add to SIM Section 2-1, F, 4, c, 6: Any person making a tandem jump is not permitted to make turns greater than 90 degrees below 500 feet, effective immediately.”

Step 3-Check

The intervention strategies seem to have had a significant impact on both the severity and frequency of injuries. Since March 2015, those in the industry have received only two reports of tandem-landing incidents with an ISS scale in the 4-to-6 range. However, there are still small geographic pockets where the policy sees little political and leadership support and where the social climate does not favor it. These geographical areas are where the two incidents since March 2015 occurred.

Step 4-Act

Members of the skydiving community—particularly Safety and Training Advisors, instructors, instructor examiners and drop zone owners—play the largest part in ensuring a more widely spread implementation of the program. As respected members of the community see the results of the program and advocate for its implementation, the more it spreads. As data comes in through incident reports and other means, the program has the opportunity to improve, and the PDCA cycle begins again.

Risk analysis is used throughout the PDCA cycle, but it’s a huge part of step one, making a plan. Risk assessment for skydiving involves describing the scope of injuries in a given group, correlating the types of injuries with the events that preceded them and identifying high-risk areas. Understanding the cause of injuries is key to identifying strategies for preventing injuries among groups at an increased risk.

Injuries result from an interplay between human factors (a jumper’s intrinsic factors such as age, gender, skill level and fitness level), equipment factors (the characteristics of the activity itself and equipment involved) and the environment (physical and socio-cultural external factors). Each variation of these causative factors requires a different strategy to combat them. Behavior-changing strategies aim to improve individual (human) risk behaviors; engineering strategies aim at improving the quality of equipment and its attributes; and policy and administration strategies try to improve the physical and socio-cultural environment through rules, regulations and compliance measures.

Organizations planning an injury-prevention strategy should ask these questions:

1.    Have similar issues been successfully addressed elsewhere, and if so, what prevention strategies were employed? If there are already successful examples in place, this is a good starting point for implementing a similar policy. If there are not previous examples, the organization may still decide to proceed based on expert opinion or simple common sense.

2.    Is the current political and organizational environment ready and able to take on the injury-prevention strategy from planning to evaluation? Is there strong leadership and is the social climate favorable? If not, the organization may need to initiate an education and training strategy before initiating a prevention program.

Risk analysis comes back into play when evaluating the effectiveness of injury-prevention programs. In testing and evaluating these programs, it is important to monitor what worked well and what did not, the program’s unanticipated consequences and what elements need revision.

This PDCA cycle is visible in all facets of our sport and continues to drive down injury and fatality rates. In the 1970s, the sport averaged 42.5 deaths per year in the U.S., and so far in the 2010s, that number is down to 23.3 per year (even with membership numbers climbing and the total number of jumps increasing). To all brother and sisters in the skydiving community, keep up the excellent work. Safety should never take a vacation.

Instructional rating holders, Safety and Training Advisors and especially Instructor Examiners should lead this charge. Do your part by filing incident reports (which you can make anonymously through the Safety and Training tab at What might seem like a little accident could be one of the key factors in identifying the next trend. Above all, be safe out there.

Ron Bell  | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training

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